The first practice session of the Australian Grand Prix had to be stopped due to a lack of GPS tracking, leading to serious safety concerns after several near-misses. This happened when it became clear that drivers were unaware of cars appearing behind them at high speed, with the teams unable to see what rivals were then doing, and issue warnings as is typical during busy practice and qualifying sessions. After a break of nine minutes, the session resumed following investigation, with the root cause identified as the failure of a server that handles the FIA‘s tyre data and distributes that information to the live timing and television graphic systems.
Additionally, the F1 start lights failed during the second Supercars race of the week which was not related to the issue that stopped GPS data from reaching F1 teams. The race was instead started by the dropping of the Australian flag. Throughout the session, the lack of GPS data had a huge impact on the drivers and their opinions on this issue were mixed as some agreed with the FIA opting to stop FP1, while others thought that GPS data was crucial during practice sessions, especially when there was a lot of traffic.
Alfa Romeo‘s Valtteri Bottas stated that it was a “bit tricky” and that “when there’s lots of traffic and half of the field is on a fast lap and half of the field is on a slow lap then it’s a bit blind, so I think it’s a bit of a safety thing”. Meanwhile, AlphaTauri‘s Nyck De Vries stated that he thought it was “quite wise for them to red flag it because the speeds are so high and everyone was so much out of sync”. de Vries also stated that the track was relatively narrow and the visibility was poor, which complicated matters. The failure of the GPS data was eventually rectified, with Max Verstappen eventually emerging as the fastest driver in FP1.
It was initially suggested that the GPS system had failed, and as a result, the FIA chose to investigate the situation concerned about driver safety. However, this investigation revealed a fault with the server responsible for distributing the live timing data and TV graphics, leading to fears over the drivers’ safety. Once the primary cause of the problem had been identified and rectified, the FIA was able to restart FP1, much to the relief of all drivers who were now in a position to benefit from the GPS.